When he was six years old, Ryan Andersen joined the Boy Scouts. When he was 17 years old, he completed the final project necessary to attain the rank of Eagle Scout. He constructed a 288-tile “Wall of Tolerance” for a middle school near his home in the San Francisco Bay Area. Shortly after he submitted his paperwork to obtain his Eagle Scout designation, Ryan’s Scoutmaster told him that he was ineligible for the rank because of his sexual orientation. Ryan, it turns out, is gay. The Boy Scouts will not permit boys who are openly gay to be Scouts, let alone Eagle Scouts. Ryan is heartbroken, and says that his scoutmaster knew about his sexual orientation and told him they would get past it. Ryan’s father resigned as an assistant scoutmaster and his mother has let people know how upset she is. It’s outrageous that a young man who devotes 11 years of his life to attaining a level of personal achievement is denied that honor because of his sexual orientation. Whether or not such discrimination is legal, and it is, it is wrong.
In a Huffington Post blog piece, Geof Stone, of the University of Chicago Law School, urges parents to pull their kids out of the Boy Scouts. He thinks, with good reason, that tomorrow’s adults will be part of a more open generation than ours and that they will not forgive parents who let them participate in an openly bigoted organization like the Scouts. In addition to that, I think we can help teach tolerance by acting as Professor Stone suggests. Boys who learn, at age 9 or so, that avoiding organizations that condone hatred on the basis of sexual orientation is a way to make change will grow up to be better citizens and will make our society better through their actions.
The more I’ve thought about this, the more angry I am about the injustice Ryan has suffered. It occurred to me yesterday that this warranted some communication with the people who run the Boy Scouts. When I tried to figure out who those people are, I was stunned to learn that the Honorary President of the Boy Scouts is the President of the United States. This President supports civil rights for all and supports marriage equality. He is unequivocally opposed, he claims, to discrimination of every form. As a consequence, it makes no sense that he would accept any position with the Boy Scouts. His decision to maintain that honorary title shows that he has not learned Stone’s lesson about affiliation.
The more closely I look at this, the worse it gets. Last August, the Boy Scouts reaffirmed their principle of exclusion, making clear that they would not allow young gay men to be Scouts. The President was confronted with this decision. So was Mitt Romney. Both of them said they opposed the exclusionary practice. The President, however, expressly reaffirmed his willingness to serve as the honorary leader of this organization. The White House explained: “The President believes that the Boy Scouts is a valuable organization that has helped educate and build character in American boys for more than a century. He also opposes discrimination in all forms, and as such opposes this policy that discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation.” Seriously? Teaching hatred (which is what discrimination really is) is never right. Endorsing it by conduct while condemning it with words is called hypocrisy. By choosing to affiliate with the Boy Scouts, the President is condoning their discriminatory policies, no matter what he says.
President Obama needs to hear Ryan Andersen’s story and he needs to honor it. He should immediately step down as Honorary President of the Boy Scouts. His continued affiliation with the Scouts calls into question the seriousness of his commitment to civil rights, and is an embarrassment to all of us. No one should be denied any achievement because of their sexual orientation. It’s time for things to change and for this President to lead.
2/6/2013 — The President has called for change at the Boy Scouts, but he has not renounced his title. He should set a deadline for change and, if the Scouts fail to change the rules, he should end any affiliation with the organization. We need to end the quiet acceptance of bigotry.